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ESG reporting guide

A voluntary support program for the Nordic and Baltic markets

In March 2017, Nasdaq’s Nordic and Baltic exchanges in Stockholm, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Iceland, Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius issued a voluntary support program on environmental, social and governance (ESG) disclosure to support their listed companies. Nasdaq Nordic will thus fulfil its commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Stock Exchanges (SSE) initiative’s Campaign to Close the ESG Guidance Gap.

Nasdaq Nordic is committed to operating orderly and fair markets, and the intention of this guide is to reinforce its mission to provide fair, transparent, and efficient markets for all stakeholders. ESG practices can be as beneficial to individual companies as they are to investors, and a focus on ESG can lead to improvement and harmonization of management practices.

Nasdaq Nordic does not require the participation of its listed companies in this process. This is a completely voluntary initiative. It is not intended to compete with, supersede, or supplement any existing framework—but rather act as an informational reference for the listed companies that strive to meet disclosure obligations. 

To support us with reaching better ESG reporting and better markets, we invite our companies, investors and other stakeholders to give us their feedback on ESG reporting and the guide. We will also consider publishing market specific supplements to the guide to support anchoring it on a national level.

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The ESG Reporting Guide's foreword is written by Mr. James Zhan, Lead, UN World Investment Report, Director, Investment & Enterprise Division, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

Questions and Answers
1. Why have Nasdaq’s Nordic and Baltic exchanges issued the voluntary ESG Reporting Guide?

First and foremost, we want to support our listed companies. This Reporting Guide will help companies understand the complex (and sometimes conflicting) world of ESG-related reporting. It provides a business-centric rationale for focusing on certain essential data points, integrating these data points into management operations, and potentially reporting them to the public. 

This is an important step in the process, but it is also the beginning of a conversation rather than a final pronouncement. You can help us to better understand how ESG reporting impacts your firm by commenting on the contents of this document. We want constructive feedback from companies, investors, regulators, and other stakeholders. We will also consider publishing market-specific supplements to this guide in order to support our effort on a national level in all seven markets.

2. Why is ESG reporting important?

While ESG factors are at times called non-financial, how a company manages them undoubtedly has financial consequences. The very term non-financial is a controversial point of reference, because many believe that ESG information is no less relevant or useful to an investor in assessing the financial prospects and operational performance of a company than information channeled through traditional accounting practices. 

A range of studies have found correlation between companies with good ESG practices and a lower cost of capital, lower stock price volatility, and better valuation over the long term. Nasdaq itself is persuaded that a correlative exists, and it seems to exert positive influence for listed companies. For further information and links to the studies that we consulted in this process, please refer to the guide.

3. Have other exchanges issued ESG reporting guides? 

Yes, Nasdaq is both a leader and participant in a larger industry-wide effort. Nasdaq was one of the United Nations Sustainable Stock Exchanges (SSE) initiative’s founding partner exchanges in 2012. The SSE is a peer-to-peer learning platform for exploring how exchanges, in collaboration with investors, regulators, and companies, can enhance corporate transparency – and ultimately performance – on ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) issues and encourage sustainable investment. 

Almost half of the SSE member exchanges, including Nasdaq’s seven local exchanges, have now issued ESG guidance of some kind, and many others (through the UN SSE’s Campaign to Close the ESG Guidance Gap) have committed to doing so this year.

4. How does this reporting guide relate to global reporting initiatives and frameworks?

During the course of this project, we have been guided by several converging work streams. First and foremost, we worked closely with the United Nations Sustainable Stock Exchanges (SSE) initiative. Nasdaq was one of six exchange founders of the SSE and helped to create its signal achievement: The Model Guidance on Reporting ESG Information to Investors.

Second, Nasdaq’s leadership of the World Federation of Exchanges’ Sustainability Working Group was vital, especially in terms of measuring stakeholder impact and setting industry benchmarks.

Finally, we relied heavily upon the work of prevalent sustainability reporting frameworks—chiefly the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)—and emerging ESG disclosure regulations, such as the EU directive on non-financial reporting. Our reporting guide provides, wherever possible, clear and contextual references to these other initiatives.

Regarding GRI in particular, we have correlated the metrics in this guide to its previous standard—the G4—but we will soon update the concordance to reflect the new GRI standards-based approach. In addition, we will undertake an effort to synchronize these ESG metrics with those included in the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

5. Is this a comprehensive global effort for all companies listed on Nasdaq?

The exchanges issuing this guide include the seven Nordic and Baltic exchanges: Nasdaq Copenhagen, Nasdaq Helsinki, Nasdaq Iceland, Nasdaq Riga, Nasdaq Stockholm, Nasdaq Tallinn and Nasdaq Vilnius. The guide will be available to all companies listed on these seven exchanges, including Nasdaq First North, but also to any other company that hopes to make use of it.

There are no current plans for Nasdaq to expand the ESG Reporting Guide project beyond our Nordic and Baltic markets at this time, but we remain abreast of changing industry dynamics. There is a growing demand from listed companies everywhere for this kind of informational insight.

6. Does Nasdaq itself report all of the data points listed in the ESG Reporting Guide?

Listed companies should not bear a burden that their stock exchange would not shoulder, even if they take it up voluntarily. Nasdaq strives to understand ESG reporting and embrace the reporting process in the same fashion and style that we present in this guide. Our forthcoming 2016 Sustainability Report will include many of the recommended ESG metrics, and we may elect to publish a supplement with any others.

7. Is it mandatory to comply with the guide?

This is a completely voluntary initiative. Because ESG is only a part of information that potential investors evaluate, Nasdaq Nordic and Baltic exchanges do not require the participation of its listed companies in this process. The rewards for managing and disclosing ESG should not imply a benefit from Nasdaq for doing so, nor an implied punishment for not doing so.

The aim of this guide is not to add to the regulatory burdens of our listed companies. On the contrary, we frequently advocate for self-control and self-regulation in the markets. Companies must decide whether or not the benefits of ESG reporting outweigh any related costs.

8. Who can benefit from the guide?

Nasdaq’s goal is to assist listed companies wishing to incorporate ESG reporting into their existing reporting processes. This guide has been created to offer a framework to support the listed companies that strive to meet ESG disclosure requirements. Thus, every public company could conceivably benefit.

The primary audience for company-reported ESG metrics is investors. Other stakeholders—including customers, employees, and community members—would likely benefit from the information, but we are currently focused on improving the information flow between exchanges, listed companies, and the investor community.

9. Many companies are reporting on ESG in accordance with an existing framework. What kind of implications does this guide carry for them?

This guide will not compete with, supersede, or supplement any existing framework—but rather acts as an informational reference for any listed companies that seek support.

If a company currently reporting on ESG matters relies on a high quality, broadly recognized national, EU-based or international framework or several of them, it is welcome to continue doing so. It should be remembered that this guide is voluntary and meant for all Nasdaq Nordic and Baltic markets for informational reference. We do not encourage taking up parallel reporting according to our guide.

10. Is this a new, parallel reporting framework to the existing regulation, frameworks and standards (e.g. GRI, UN Global Compact, EU directive on non-financial reporting)? 

No, this is a voluntary guide. We do not encourage parallel reporting. Companies currently reporting on ESG matters may want to study how our guide relates to their reporting. And companies that have not engaged themselves in ESG reporting, may want to take up some of the ideas of our guide or start following it.

But again, this guide is voluntary and meant for all Nasdaq Nordic and Baltic markets for informational reference, and there is no obligation to agree with its principles or comply with its recommendations.

11. Why have you chosen these 33 indicators? 

The chosen ESG metrics are those that we find to be the most appropriate for most companies to track and disclose. These metrics are evenly balanced across environmental, social, and governance categories, and are all given equal weight and consideration in this document.

Each metric is presented in terms of a Q&A, with answers (wherever possible) to the following questions:

  • What does this ESG metric measure?
  • How is this ESG metric measured?
  • Why should this ESG metric be reported? 

In order to answer another question—how does each ESG metric correlate with other major sustainability frameworks?—we have provided cross references to multiple prominent sustainability reporting frameworks.

Companies seeking more detailed information about each metric are encouraged to consult the referenced framework sources, as well as the research notes at the bottom of each page.

While we have identified these metrics in particular, companies are encouraged to understand, improve, and report any others that may be material to their business or important to their stakeholders. In addition, companies should consider explaining their process for evaluating material impact and stakeholder value, as well as any custom calculation methodologies. In short, the additional reporting of any narrative context or analysis related to the specific metrics below would be beneficial.

12. If a company decides to report following the ESG Reporting Guide, what should it do? Will Nasdaq collect the data?

We believe in a voluntary, flexible and encouraging approach, where companies wishing to follow the guide can start reporting any or all of these data points at any time, presumably upon an annual basis thereafter. Companies can start by focusing on one or several data points that are most critical for their business and industry expectations.

We also encourage participating companies to use established reporting channels and schedules—rather than creating new ones—wherever possible. Current financial and non-financial reporting schedules are recommended.

Nasdaq has no plans to collect company-reported ESG data at this time. If the program proves popular, we may revisit that issue. Nasdaq may also track the participation of listed companies in this program in order to better support their efforts.

13. What happens next? 

The launch of the ESG Reporting Guide is our first step of an ongoing effort, the beginning of a conversation rather than a final pronouncement. We invite our companies, investors and other stakeholders to give us their feedback on ESG reporting in general and this reporting guide in particular.

Our local exchanges plan to arrange meetings and seminars in 2017 to further discuss these items and gather feedback from all interested parties to encourage an ongoing dialogue to develop our markets into a more sustainable direction.

Although this guide is intended to support listed companies in the Nordic and Baltic markets in general, we are aware of the fact that there may be local concerns. Thus we will consider publishing subsequent supplements to this document, each one focused on a specific market or country. These supplements may be needed in order to make the connection between sustainability practices and other local dynamics—new and existing regulations, corporate governance codes, social initiatives, political concerns, traditional business practices—more explicit.

14. Where can I ask for more information and give feedback?

You are welcome to contact us via email at sustainability@nasdaq.com or refer to this webpage http://business.nasdaq.com/esg-guide.

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